Warren, Merkley, and Kahele Reintroduce the Remove the Stain Act
Legislation would revoke Medal of Honor from soldiers who slaughtered hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children at the Wounded Knee massacre
Text of the Bill (PDF) | Bill One-Pager (PDF)
Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Congressman Kaiali'i Kahele (D-Hawaii) reintroduced the Remove the Stain Act. The bill would revoke the Medal of Honor from the soldiers who perpetrated the Wounded Knee massacre on December 29, 1890, when U.S. soldiers slaughtered hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children-most of them unarmed-on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Twenty soldiers in the regiment received the Medal of Honor-the highest military decoration-for their actions at Wounded Knee.
As the country's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor is awarded in the name of Congress for "gallantry beyond the call of duty." The soldiers' acts of violence at Wounded Knee were not heroic, but rather tragic and profoundly shameful. The 101st Congress (1989-1990) adopted a concurrent resolution acknowledging the 100th anniversary of the massacre and "expresse[d] its deep regret on behalf of the United States" for the "terrible tragedy."
Congress has rescinded Medals of Honor before. The Remove the Stain Act respects and honors those who lost their lives, advances justice, and takes a step toward righting a profound wrong in our nation's history.
"The horrifying acts of violence against hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee should be condemned, not celebrated with Medals of Honor," said Senator Warren. "The Remove the Stain Act acknowledges a profoundly shameful event in U.S. history, and that's why I won't stop fighting for this effort to advance justice and take a step toward righting wrongs against Native peoples."
"We must stop whitewashing and minimizing these horrifying chapters of our history immediately, and move forward with a commitment to remembering, reflecting on, and working to rectify them," said Senator Merkley. "I hope this bill helps us tell the true story of what happened at Wounded Knee-a massacre of hundreds of innocent Lakota men, women, and children-and recognize the battle as an abhorrent tragedy."
"I'm proud to introduce the Remove the Stain Act in the House. Our bill rescinds the Medal of Honor from soldiers who shamefully massacred unarmed Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee," said Congressman Kaiali'i Kahele. "This horrific act of violence must not be rewarded. The Remove the Stain Act is legislation that is long overdue and is one step toward acknowledging a horrible wrong in our country's history."
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are original cosponsors of the bill in the Senate. Representatives Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-Mo.), Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fl.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) are original cosponsors of the bill in the House.
"The soldiers who attacked and killed indigenous peoples at Wounded Knee did not deserve Medals of Honor. While we cannot change history, we can stop celebrating those who committed atrocities," Senator Wyden said. "Congress must revoke these Medals of Honor and recognize the harm that the U.S. government caused to indigenous communities."
"History needs to recognize Wounded Knee for what it really was: a horrific massacre of unarmed Lakota men, women and children. There was nothing heroic about the soldiers' acts of violence at this event. Removing their Medals of Honor will help tell the true story," said Senator Smith, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "There is much more work we need to do to reckon with our country's history of harming and erasing Indigenous communities, and this is one of many steps we must take. I will continue to lift up the voices of Minnesota's Ojibwe and Dakota Nations, our urban Indigenous communities, and all the sovereign Tribal Nations across the country as Congress works to right these past wrongs and strengthen government-to-government relationships with Tribes."
Senators Warren and Merkley first introduced the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate in November 2019. Former Representatives Denny Heck (D-Wash.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), and Paul Cook (R-Calif.) introduced the bipartisan Remove the Stain Act in the House last Congress.
The Remove the Stain Act has earned the support of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Yankton Sioux Tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe, the National Congress of American Indians, the Coalition of Large Tribes, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Association, HAWK1890 Survivor Descendants, Four Directions, the Wounded Knee School District, South Dakota State Senator Troy Heinert, South Dakota State Senator Red Dawn Foster, Professor Philip J. Deloria, Ms. Dena Buffalo Waloke, Ms. Marcella LeBeau, Common Defense, Veterans for Peace, Veterans for American Ideals, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
"As President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, I express my Tribal Nation's gratitude to Senators Warren and Merkley for the Remove the Stain Act. The time is now for Congress to pass this bill. After 121 years of sorrow this year, this bill would mark a major milestone in the healing that is needed by our Oglala Sioux Nation, our sister Sioux Nations, and the United States of America, itself, in light of what occurred at Wounded Knee, which this bill would definitively and rightfully recognize as a massacre and an atrocity, not a battle." -- Kevin Killer, President, Oglala Sioux Tribe
"On behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its members we are in support of the 'Remove The Stain Act' legislation and are honored to have this legislation introduced on the birthday of our tribal member Vine Deloria, a well-known and respected author. We are grateful that this will be reintroduced into the Senate and the House by United States Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon) United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Congressman Kai Kahele (Hawaii).
"I am both heartened that after 130 years justice is being sought for the Massacre at Wounded Knee, but saddened that this atrocity has also taken 130 years to correct."-- Chairman Mike Faith, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
"The Medal of Honor should be reserved for those military service men and women that demonstrate the highest attributes of military service who distinguish themselves by act of valor. We are against the award of the Medal of Honor to individuals that took like without mercy at the Wounded Knee Massacre. For these reasons, we are in support of the Remove the Stain Act." -- Robert Flying Hawk, Chairman, Yankton Sioux Tribe
"Native people serve in the United States Armed Forces at a higher rate than any other group in the United States, and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley's and Congressman Kaiali'i Kahele's introduction of the Remove the Stain Act not only shows respect to these brave Native men and women who in some cases gave the ultimate sacrifice for this Nation with their lives, it also brings justice and healing to the Wounded Knee Descendants," said Harold Frazier, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
"The United States of America caused the chain of events that led to the Wounded Knee Massacre and the Seventh Cavalry carried out the Massacre against our Lakota men, women and children, who had just been disarmed. There was no honor for the United States at Wounded Knee. There was only inhumane cruelty," wrote Rodney Bordeaux, the President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. "The Rosebud Sioux Tribe strongly supports the enactment of the Remove the Stain Act." Read the full letter of support here.
"The Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate strongly supports the enactment of the Remove the Stain Act. As our Senators, we call upon you to co-sponsor the Remove the Stain Act, and take the necessary step to remove the medals given to the 7th Cavalry in the wake of this terrible massacre. Thank you for understanding this terrible tragedy among our Lakota-Nakota-Dakota People," wrote Chairman Delbert S. Hopkins, Jr. of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe. Read the full letter of support here.
"For decades, NCAI and Tribal Nations have called upon Congress to revoke the Medals of Honor bestowed upon the U.S. 7th Calvary for their participation in the Wounded Knee Massacre," said Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians. "Awarding one of the military's highest honors to individuals who committed atrocities against our Lakota relatives including-women, children, and elders-has long been a stain upon our nation's conscience. Our ancestors and their survivors deserve justice. We are grateful to Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Jeff Merkley, and Congressman Kai Kahele for introducing this legislation that would condemn the horrific acts committed at Wounded Knee by revoking these medals."
"On behalf of the Coalition of Large Tribes, we want to express our heartfelt gratitude for United States Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon), United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Congressman Kai Kahele (Hawaii) for reintroducing the Remove the Stain Act in both houses. It is commendable that this bill is being reintroduced on March 26th, 2021 on the birthday of Vine Deloria Jr. who was Native American author, theologian, historian, and activist. His books Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), which brought attention to Native American issues as will this legislation. This legislation will heal the hearts of those descendants living as well as honor for those who have passed, in this fight for justice. Know that we as members of Nations, stand beside you, as do our ancestors." -- Chairman Mark Fox, Coalition of Large Tribes - Chairman of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation
"USET SPF stands with our Lakota relatives and countless others across Indian Country in extending our unequivocal support to the Remove the Stain Act. The 7th Calvary committed unspeakable atrocities against hundreds of unarmed Lakota during the Wounded Knee Massacre. To memorialize these inhumane acts with the nation's highest military honor defiles all for which it stands, while perpetuating the historic and continued trauma felt by the Lakota people-and all Native American people-at the hands of the U.S. government. We call upon Congress for the bill's immediate passage." -- Chief Kirk Francis, President of United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF)
"Today, it's time for the United States to acknowledge that the Wounded Knee Massacre was a violation of our rights as human beings to live in peace in our own homelands. It's time for the United States to take back the 20 Medals of Honor. It's time for the truth," wrote Harold C. Frazier, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Association, Inc. Read the full letter of support here.
"March 26th, 2021, will mark another historic day for Indian Country when the 'Remove The Stain Act' will be reintroduced in the United States House & Senate, by United States Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon), United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Congressman Kai Kahele (Hawaii).
"March 26th is a historic day for another reason on March 26th, 1933 Vine Deloria Jr., from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, was born and in later years, authored the book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto that brought national attention to Native American issues, just as this legislation is doing today.
"It is with the upmost and deepest gratitude that Four Directions supports the reintroduction of the 'Remove The Stain Act'. This legislation has been sought by our people for the last 130 years to right a terrible wrong and my wife Barb and I are alive to witness it." -- OJ & Barb Semans, Co-Executive Directors, Four Directions Vote
"Lakota Holy Man, Black Elk, described Wounded Knee as follows, 'I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth, you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead';
"This legislation will help rebuild our circle and revive our sacred tree that will honor our ancestors and give new hope to the future generations.
"We, the Lakota, are a resilient people and 130 years is a long time to wait to right this terrible wrong. But, the creator has put us in this space together to show the world that it is never too late to do what is right, it's time!" -- South Dakota State Senator Troy Heinert, Rosebud Sioux
"Although nothing can right the wrongs of the past, rescinding the Medals of Honor given to United States soldiers for the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, signifies the beginning of tangible steps towards Truth and Reconciliation for future generations." -- South Dakota State Senator Red Dawn Foster
"The descendants of our relatives who were massacred at Wounded Knee are deeply touched and grateful to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley and Representative Kai Kahele for introducing the Remove the Stain Act in the Senate. Their courageous efforts in righting a wrong are encouraging with going into the future. Their actions show that the U.S. Senate is moving toward acting in a more reconciliatory way." -- Manny C. Iron Hawk, Chairperson of the Heartbeat At Wounded Knee 1890, an organization consisting of descendants of the Wounded Knee Massacre
"To the United States Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon), United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Congressman Kai Kahele (Hawaii) for reintroducing the Remove the Stain Act in both houses, lila pilamayapi, from the 1890HAWKDESCENDANTS & our families. We still have trauma because our ancestor's blood still runs in our veins so the massacre of our families/ancestors we feel in our hearts. With this victory for removal of the medals is a step towards healing. Ho hecetuwe. Ghost Horse is my ancestor, killed at Wounded Knee." -- Ms. Dena Buffalo Waloke
"In my opinion there is a pervasive sadness that exists on our reservation, the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota. There has never been closure to the horrific unprovoked massacre at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation, where unarmed men, women and children were massacred under a white flag of truce with their leader Spotted Elk who was lying there helpless suffering from pneumonia," wrote Ms. Marcella R. LeBeau. Read the full letter of support here.
"Veterans For Peace is proud to offer our endorsement of the Remove the Stain Act," said Garett Reppenhagen, Veterans For Peace Executive Director. "It is long past time for this country to recognize the terrible violence that U.S. militarism has done to Indigenous communities. As veterans we believe that revoking these medals is a continuation of the work currently being done by some in Congress to no longer glorify acts of racism and white supremacy."
"Recipients of this award are among the greatest heroes of our history, and so it is tragic that past recipients have included U.S. soldiers who slaughtered hundreds of Lakota men, women, and children at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. It is critical that Congress act to rescind these specific awards, because there should be no medals for massacres," wrote Alexander McCoy, Political Director of Common Defense. "For us, this bill is not only about continuing the important work Congress has engaged in over the past year to revisit undeserved honors by taking actions such as renaming military bases, it is about taking an important step towards healing for the Lakota descendants, and protecting the integrity of every subsequently awarded Medal of Honor."
"On behalf the Wound Knee School and our students, we are grateful for United States Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon), United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Congressman Kai Kahele (Hawaii) for reintroducing the Remove the Stain Act in both houses," wrote Monica Whirlwind Horse, Wounded Knee District School Principal. "Removing the medals from those that committed such a horrendous crime and declaring it as such, is a beginning in righting so many wrongs inflicted on our people. Let us begin to heal together from this atrocity." Read the full statement of support here.
"Native Americans serve in the United States armed forces at a higher rate per capita than any ethnic group in the country. To award the soldiers who committed these atrocities at Wounded Knee the highest possible award in the United States military is wrong, and an insult to our Native veterans. It is imperative that Congress vote to revoke these medals," wrote Amelia Kegan, Legislative Director for Domestic Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Read the full letter of support here.
The National Congress of American Indians, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe have all passed resolutions calling for the revocation of the medals.
In February 2021, the South Dakota State Senate unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Congress to investigate and possibly rescind the Medals of Honor.
Throughout her time in the Senate, Senator Warren has worked to protect and advance tribal sovereignty, to emphasize the federal government's trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations, and to affirm Washington's government-to-government relationship with tribal nations:
- Earlier this month, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) reintroduced the COVID Community Care Act, legislation that provides emergency funding for community organizations in medically underserved communities that suffer from health disparities -- including communities of color and Native communities -- as part of the larger public health effort to contain COVID-19. The last two COVID relief packages included provisions consistent with the COVID Community Care Act. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) specifically included more than $6 billion for Native health systems, including the Indian Health Service.
- In September 2020, Senator Warren and former Congresswoman Haaland introduced The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States Act, which would establish the first formal commission in United States history to investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government's cultural genocide and assimilation practices through its Indian Boarding School Policy.
- In July 2020, Senator Warren and former Congresswoman Haaland introduced the DIGITAL Reservations Act, a bill to recognize tribal nations' and Native Hawaiian organizations' ownership of spectrum over their lands and to support their sovereignty.
- At the request of Senator Warren, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has included an age-adjustment in its official COVID-19 mortality risk data. This change reflects that Black, Latino, and Native American people are dying of COVID-19 at relatively higher rates than was previously reported.
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